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  Major and the Minor, The Older Than She Looks
Year: 1942
Director: Billy Wilder
Stars: Ginger Rogers, Ray Milland, Rita Johnson, Robert Benchley, Diana Lynn, Edward Fielding, Frankie Thomas, Raymond Roe, Charles Smith, Larry Nunn, Billy Dawson, Lela E. Rogers, Aldrich Bowker, Boyd Irwin, Byron Shores, Richard Fiske, Norma Varden
Genre: Comedy, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 3 votes)
Review: Susan Kathleen Applegate (Ginger Rogers) is a modern woman in New York City, and frankly she's getting sick of the place. She's has tried to hold down many jobs, and her latest is as a scalp massager, so tonight she is headed over to a swanky apartment to see her newest client, Albert Osborne (Robert Benchley). However, as the elevator operator strongly hints, Osborne is not so interested in having his scalp seen to as he is romancing Susan, and he asks her to get out of her wet coat and into a dry martini, a line he is very pleased with. After a couple of minutes of this kind of thing she walks out, determined to head for home - but there's a problem at the railway station.

That problem being that the cash she has saved for her return ticket is now not enough because they have put the prices up. The Major and the Minor was director Billy Wilder's first opportunity to direct in Hollywood, and he and his frequent co-scriptwriter Charles Brackett settled on a story that was pretty gimmicky, but has led to all sorts of mild controversy since. Wilder was always keen to add a little sleaze to his comedies, witness the enforced transvestism in Some Like It Hot or what was effectively pimping out The Apartment, but this film has become less acceptable as the years go by, unlike his other efforts.

The issue is that to make up for Susan's lack of funds, she decides to pose as a twelve-year-old so she can travel on a reduced fare. In fact, the first twenty or thirty minutes or so of this are bright and enjoyable entertainment, with Susan getting into all sorts of scrapes such as trying to fool the guards on the train that she is a little girl by making excuses that she is tall for her age, but unfortunately her addiction to nicotine lets her down and she is noticed smoking, so flees down the carriages until she finds a compartment door which is open.

Inside is kindly but dim Major Philip Kirby (Ray Milland) - Major, minor, geddit? - who lets Susan stay, but unlike those guards is entirely convinced she is the youngster she claims to be. He puts her to bed in the lower bunk, and takes the upper one, which leads to a ridiculous scene where Susan, now calling herself "Su-Su", is awoken by a thunderstorm and he comforts her as she plays along, embarrassed but not able to show it. Through a number of contrivances she ends up staying at the Major's cadet school for a few days where she is lusted after by the pupils and her new guardian begins to notice that she does look strangely attractive for a twelve-year-old.

At this point, you may well be thinking yeah, this used to be funny but now I'm getting uncomfortable. Although the film's fans insist the comedy is thoroughly wholesome and innocent, the conventions of a romantic story that this attempts to abide by render some very odd situations, with Susan falling for the Major and trying to work out a way to reveal her subterfuge and replace his fiancée Pamela (Rita Johnson) in his affections. And it's not really as dubious as it sounds, as Philip takes a largely fatherly attitude to Su-Su for most of the film, the main tension arising from whether she can win him over while still allowing him to keep his career without scandal. Nevertheless, that other tension, the unsavoury and unspoken sexual one, is definitely present, and while it may be mainly from Susan's side, the speedy ending where all is forgiven with no questions asked beggars belief. Music by Robert Emmet Dolan.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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